Mention ‘TATA’ to a Malaysian motorist and his first thought will be either a bus or a lorry. But in India, TATA is a giant automaker and part of a group which has a turnover of US$8 billion annually. The automotive arm began business in 1954 when it signed an agreement with Mercedes-Benz, which accounts for the similarity of the TATA lorries to the older Mercedes ones. That collaboration ended in 1969 but by then, TATA had developed its own product development and engineering capabilities to make its very own 100% Indian vehicles.
TATA has concentrated on commercial vehicles for much of its history and is among the top 10 commercial vehicle makers in the world today. It also makes multi-utility and sport-utility vehicles, with about 10% of production being exported.
With its long experience, TATA ventured into making passenger cars to meet growing demand in the Indian market. Its first effort, which cost over US$500 million to develop, appeared last year in the form of the Indica, a 1.4-litre (petrol and diesel) hatchback about the same size as a Daihatsu Charade. In its first 12 months in the market, the Indica captured 8% share of the the Indian passenger car market. Exports will start next month with the first European markets being Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Emulating the ‘bigger boys’, TATA has also come up with a 2-seat roadster concept called the Aria. It sits on the same platform – which has a 2400 mm wheelbase – as the Indica but has a smart and modern looking topless style. A more powerful engine with about 110 kW of power is proposed at this time.
TATA chairman Ratan Tata has also hinted that over the next three years, the variants of the Indica will be forthcoming and will include a stationwagon, 3-box sedan and perhaps even a small 4WD (like the Kembara).
Of the Aria, he said: “We will be delighted to offer the Aria if it manages to create enough excitement. We will closely monitor the reactions of the consumers and the international press to the concept to evaluate its business prospects.”